DONEGAL TIMES

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May 14th 2003

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Bow out Gracefully, Boys Your Time is Up

So North West Radio has lost its licence and a new grouping, Ocean FM, is to take over. Already the crying has started, with all the usual suspects wheeled out to tell us how good the station is and how much it will be missed. Mutters of “it’s not over yet” and veiled threats of court action are in the air.
Well, it’s like this, the members of the consortium in-situ knew the rules when they took up the licence in 1990. They realised that its life span was 14 years, at the end of which time it would go out to competition again. This has happened and the incumbent has lost.

Let me tell you a little story about another consortium that lost......

Back at the end of the 1980’s the late Cecil King Jnr., managing director of The Donegal Democrat, approached a group of people in south Donegal, Sligo and north Leitrim with a view to putting in a bid for the new local radio franchise in the North-West. Among those approached were Magee, fronted by Eric Morrow, John Keown of Donegal Creameries, Benny Dorrian from Ballyshannon and myself, Liam Hyland. All were agreeable and a series of meetings took place, at one of which, a fund was set up to bankroll the campaign. A consulting company was employed to draw up projections and prepare a submission. This was done very professionally and we were full of hope that ours would be the grouping chosen to run the franchise. Thus prepared, when the day of judgement arrived, we all donned our good suits and headed for Sligo to present our case in front of The Radio Commission.
To make the story shorter, our bid was unsuccessful, the licence was awarded to a consortium led by The Sligo Champion newspaper. Though disappointed, this was accepted by all concerned and we quietly shelved our ambitions to control and run a local radio station.

But lo and behold, after some months, the Sligo group decided they did not want the licence and handed it back to The Radio Commission. It was all to play for again!
Our consortium was resurrected, submission dusted off and we prepared to enter the fray for a second time. Shortly after, I received a call from Cecil King who said he had been approached by a new grouping from Sligo who proposed that we join with them to make the submission. Cecil recommended that we should do this, with him looking after our interests. Having full faith and trust in Cecil, who had led us from the start, we agreed. The submission, essentially the same as our original, was sent in by the Sligo group and we settled back to wait.
To shorten - ‘Our’ submission was successful. We were delighted - and celebrated long and hard that night.
Then the bombshell! A few days after, Cecil contacted us to report that the Sligo grouping was now saying that the Donegal personnel were not part of its consortium. Cecil, who had accepted the pledges of the western group in good faith, was devastated. Even though he himself was to be accepted as a member of the new group, he felt it was unethical that the consortium he had led was to be cast aside.
To settle the issue, a meeting was convened, to be held in the Great Southern Hotel, Sligo, on Saturday, 18th August, 1990. Present were to be the Sligo principals, with Cecil, Benny Dorrian and myself representing the Donegal interests. This was to be a memorable day in my life for more reasons than one!
The meeting opened with Cecil making a statement to the effect that he had handed over the presentation of the submission in good faith, in the belief that his Donegal consortium was to be accommodated should it be successful. This was refuted by the other side. The arguments raged back and forth for about half an hour, culminating with a ‘Gentleman’ well known for his involvement in Knock Airport, uttering the never-to-be-forgotten words “We don’t f...king need them”. At that very moment a receptionist from the hotel came into the room to say there was an urgent phone call for me, a call that was to inform me of a family tragedy that took my mind off any other matters for many days to come.
When things settled, Benny and I met and decided that the only way to get justice was through law and we communicated our decision to Sligo.
A few days later, we got word that a member of the Sligo group would like to meet with us and we agreed. This member turned out to be Donal O’Shea, then CEO of the North Western Health Board, now Chairman of the board of North West Radio. Benny, Eric and I represented the Donegal interests. The meeting was held in the Central Hotel.
Mr O’Shea asked that we back off from our threat of legal action, as there was no way that he, in his position, could be a member of the new radio board, if it went to law. We made no commitment, but said we would consider the position. To gloss over other twists and turns, including an offer to make us ‘B’ shareholders, without the right to speak at meetings or vote, we eventually decided to withdraw our resistance and drop the threat of legal action.
I need to say that Cecil King, in this whole sorry saga, acted in an exemplary manner. When it became obvious that his own consortium had been shafted, he offered to sacrifice his own place in the new group. But with the coup complete, and our decision made not to fight any longer, we urged him to take his place on the new Board.

That was thirteen years ago - and, as often happens, the wheel has turned full circle. Today it is the consortium that gleefully got rid of its unwanted Donegal connection, that has itself been dumped - and I find it hard to have any sympathy. Let them now do what Benny, Eric, John and I did - walk away quietly, and desist, like us, from any notion of hauling the affair through the courts. Local radio will continue under a new name - the best people in NWR will be taken on by the new station. The only big loss, should he decide not to make the crossing, would be Tommy Marron. While the existing staff and presenters deserve some sympathy - they had no part to play in events in 1990 - everybody working for the station knew the rules. And the fact is - they are now out in the cold - just as a group from South Donegal were thirteen years ago.

Bluestack Climb to honour Airmen
Jim Gilchrist re-visits Crash Site

Air Corps crew member Sgt. Tony Doyle directs the helicopter back down to pick up Jim Gilchrist from spot close to where his World War II Sunderland flying boat crashed in 1944. Jim, who had laid a wreath at site, is accompanied by John McGroary, Bernard McGlinchey and Kevin Quinlan.

Saturday 26th April 2003 started off like any other weekend day for this time of year - 8am - wet and windy. And there I was, in two minds as to whether I should get out of bed and put myself through torture climbing the Blue Stack mountains or stay comfortably under the blankets. The Blue Stack Ramblers had organised a walk to the site of the WWII plane crash where a commemorative ceremony was planned for 12 noon to coincide with the arrival of Jim Gilchrist (80), the only still surviving member of the ill-fated crew. But a quick phone call from Liam Hyland left me in no doubt.
Killymard carpark, 9am, saw 16 adrenalin-driven souls ready to climb from the Lough Eske side, including Jackie Irwin and son Rodney, brothers Sam and Reggie Gilchrist, Paul Greene and son Colin, Liam Hyland, Kevin Quinlan, Tommy Conlon, John McGlynn (Dunkineely), Manus Brennan and others, with team leaders Bernard McGlinchey and Geraldine Carty.

aldine Carty leading the way with the speed and gait of an accomplished hill walker. Nothing was a bother to her or Bernard as they coaxed, waited for stragglers, tended the wounded and studied maps to get us up the easiest and shortest way.
Half-way up the steep ravine, the terrain was taking its toll on the backs of the legs - “just another 100 metres to the top” says Bernard. “Thanks be to God” says I - but at that top, there was another top, and another, as we struggled towards the summit. At the cairn of stones, denoting the highest point in the Bluestacks, we were met by the Donegal Mountain Rescue team who had been shadowing us since we started - taking the route up the harder rock face, running steeply parallel.
Then the group of around 30 from the Letterbarrow (Grey Mare’s Tail) side, accompanied by a UTV camera crew, with presenter Paul Clarke, came into sight - led by John McGroary. Brief greetings, a talk from John, and on to the site of the plane crash. Opening up below us, the Croaghs and Lough na Dara, behind us a gale force wind tearing through our clothing, with the clouds occasionally parting to reveal the peaks and valleys of the magnificent Blue Stacks. Soon the area was filling up with walkers, assembling from all directions, Brochagh, Glenties, Cloghan etc. A torrential shower, coupled with the biting wind, drove all and sundry to take refuge behind whatever large rock they could find, taking out their flasks and snacks to pack in whatever warmth they could.
Meanwhile in Finner Camp at 12 noon - FCA weekend manoeuvres were in full swing on the shooting-range, under the command of Comdt. Cyril Reynolds. As an Irish Air Corps Dauphine Helicopter took off, an order was issued to cease fire and offer a salute - a mark of respect to its passenger, ex-RAF man Jim Gilchrist, embarking on his final(?) mission to the crash site, a mission to commemorate a cold Winter’s night in January 1944 when his Sunderland seaplane, returning from a mission in the north Atlantic, smashed into the summit of the Bluestacks, killing seven of his comrades and badly injuring three. Jim and another were lucky to escape with cuts and bruises.
Back on the Bluestacks - a gale force wind was now blowing, when in the distance could be seen the outline of the chopper winging its way up Donegal Bay. With the elements tearing at it, and only a small patch of level but rocky ground, this landing was going to take all the courage and expertise of the Air Corps crew. But land it did, and from the cabin emerged 80 year old Jim Gilchrist, to the applause of those waiting. Then an emotional moment as he crossed to the crash scene to lay a wreath of poppies and small wooden cross where his young comrades had perished on this bleak Donegal mountain, 59 years ago.
An ecumenical blessing by Rev. Colin Weir, Methodist and an Tath Mairtin O’Cunneagain, who, along with the many gathered in the wind and rain, recited as Gaeilge, the Lord’s Creed ‘Our Father’. Retired Garda Sergeant Liam Briody, Glenties, read a poem to the fallen. Ceremonies over, scores of photographs taken - Times girl Margaret Gallagher snapping away - the crowds dispersed, returning by separate routes to their own particular areas - indeed some ending up in Joe O’Neills welcoming hostelry in Letterbarrow for a much needed pint.
Later in the evening, in the Mill Park Hotel, at a Donegal Community Chamber sponsored function, plaques and gifts were exchanged, Mayor of Donegal, Ernan McGettigan, presented Jim Gilchrist with a Magee sponsored jacket, while Jim reciprocated, making presentations to Mayor Ernan McGettigan on behalf the people of Donegal, Donegal Boys Brigade and the Bluestack Ramblers.
In attendance at the function was Joe McDermott from an Croagh Lach. It was to Joe’s house at the base of the Bluestacks that two of the survivors made their way at dawn’s early light on that fateful day in 1944. The sight of the two airmen, in torn flight clothing, covered in dirt and blood, terrified the recently widowed Mrs. Catherine McDermott and her five small children. But composing herself, and with a Donegal hospitality that has never been forgotten by Jim, she took them in and cared for them, sending her young son Joe on a bicycle to Brochagh Garda Station.
Sadly Mrs. McDermott, and John have since passed away and other family members are living elsewhere. Nowadays Joe is alone in this remote, barren, but beautiful, region of Donegal. I suppose it’s ironic that as a result of this tragic air crash the area has been widely advertised as a hill walkers paradise, and indeed, on any given weekend, many visit to view the simple cross recently made by local man Tommy Brogan from the melted down aluminium fuselage of this plane- and also view the commerative plaque erected by friends of the airmen, three of whom are buried in Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh.


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